Is your SAM program doomed to failure?

Matt Fisher, Chief Commercial Officer, Livingstone

If your organization is – or is considering – investing in a Software Asset Management program, then there is a strong chance that you’ve either already paid for, or are about to buy, a SAM tool.  It has become the default position for most organizations around the world: “in order to do SAM, you need a SAM platform”.  Conceptually, it is also a very elegant solution in that you outsource a problem to software.

It’s not a stance I entirely agree with, but more of that later.

For those organizations that are onboarding a SAM platform, Gartner released a research note last year entitled “Three Critical Elements of a Successful Software Asset Management Tool Implementation”.

If you have a Gartner account, I highly recommend reading it. The three critical elements outlined by Roger Williams and Matt Corsi should serve as a wake-up call to anyone either considering deploying, or struggling to use, a SAM platform.

In simple terms, the three elements outlined in the research note are:

  1. Having accurate entitlement data
  2. Clear scope and objectives
  3. Sufficient resources

I’ll leave you to read the research note for Gartner’s take and advice on those three elements.  But for what it’s worth, I think they are both very sound and should also be pretty scary to SAM managers and their sponsors.

In fact, although the report is titled “Three Critical Elements of a Successful Software Asset Management Tool Implementation”, I’d go as far as to suggest they could have just as easily titled it: “Why onboarding and using a SAM tool is a nightmare you’re not remotely ready for”.

Contentious, for sure. But let me explain by looking at Gartner’s three critical elements:

Accurate entitlement data

This is a minefield that could occupy an entire blog post itself, but there are multiple challenges associated with entitlements:

  • Finding it – just collating your entitlements can be a major challenge, even for your tier one publishers (let alone the older legacy vendors who are actually more likely to audit you).
  • Knowing it’s accurate – in the past, entitlement sources like Microsoft Licensing Statements (MLS) were notorious for being at least 25% inaccurate.  So even if you ask your vendor or licensing reseller to provide your records, how will you know they’re accurate?
  • Uploading it – the tools don’t make it as easy as you might think.  Getting entitlements into your chosen platform can be a real chore at best, and impossible at worse.
  • Processing it – no SAM platform in the world supports every licensing metric from every vendor out of the box.  You’ll either need to customize the tool, fudge it, or just accept you can’t do it.

Put simply, if you want your SAM platform to be more than an expensive inventory solution or glorified licensing spreadsheet, you will need to put a lot of effort in.   Which leads us to Gartner’s third critical element (I’ll come back to their second).

Sufficient Resources

I’m not sure there’s a SAM or ITAM team in the world that would claim to have more resources than they need, but a common complaint does seem to be that most SAM teams are under-resourced. That’s because:

  • “SAM” isn’t a skill – it’s a collection of distinct skillsets and abilities including best practices knowledge, project management, licensing expertise (and remember you need differentiate licensing knowledge for different publishers!), data processing, tools configuration and more. That’s way too many skills to find in a single person or even a small team.
  • SAM skills are in short supply – it’s widely acknowledged that SAM skills are difficult to recruit, with many positions remaining unfilled for some time.
  • SAM isn’t seen as a priority by the rest of the organization – which makes it difficult to ‘borrow’ resources or gain support from other teams and functions.  This can lead to frustrating delays from trying to deploy client agents to allocating server resources to finding a helping hand with those entitlements.
  • Your tool could be a resource hog – I’ve seen entire SAM teams where they spend more time administering and customising the tool than creating ELPs and generating insights for the organization.  There’s no argument that tools, when managed correctly, are hugely valuable.  But effective management can often be so expensive that it destroys the planned ROI.

What constitutes ‘sufficient resources’ has to be specific to you and your organization.  But I’d caution any internal SAM team against thinking that managing a SAM platform is a resource-light effort.

Clear scope & objectives

Gartner’s final critical element shouldn’t be a surprise, yet it highlights a major potential failing of many SAM programs.  Not that they don’t have clear scope and objectives on day one, but that either they are wrong (usually too ambitious, over-promising to get the necessary budgetary sign-off) or are not revised and matured on a regular basis.

As many experts – more ‘expert’ than me – have highlighted previously, it’s essential that SAM goals are aligned with business priorities (cloud transformation, cost containment, governance etc.).  That doesn’t just mean on day one.  SAM scopes need to be reviewed regularly and adjusted.

It also pays to have a little foresight.  If your plan to meet a SAM goal is to implement a SAM platform, are you limiting the ability to modify your SAM goals in the future.  Or if you’ve already got a good idea what ‘phase 1’ looks like, can you make an educated guess on what ‘phase 2’ might be (and can your SAM platform support it)?

For most organizations, even planning their SAM journey (let alone executing on it) can take months or even years.  What happens when (not if) events happen during that time that need immediate attention? It could be an audit, a security breach or an unexpected bill (see my blog on cloud shock).  Data and insights need to be prioritized according to risks, with SAM maturity treated as a parallel task.

Are you headed towards the trough of disillusionment?

It’s a common experience that sometime after the euphoria of getting sign-off to implement a SAM tool – it could be six months, a year, even two years – the majority of organizations find themselves sliding into the trough of disillusionment, as they lose confidence that the SAM tool will deliver on the pre-purchase promises and expectations.

Some of that has to sit on the tools vendors.  But a lot of it can be avoided by the customer being less naïve and addressing the three critical elements raised by Gartner.

Does that mean that I think all SAM tools are a waste of money and should be avoided.  No, not at all. SAM tools are a vital part of the SAM program.  But they are labelled as tools for a reason.  They need to be used effectively.  If you’re short on time, skills and data, the tool can’t be effective.

What’s the answer?

Unsurprisingly, we think we have at least some of the answers.  They relate directly to Gartner’s three critical elements:

  1. Accurate entitlement data – our 80+ licensing specialists in the UK and USA will help you find, upload and process your entitlement data, creating a truly Effective Licensing Position.  This means that whether you’ve bought a SAM platform already or not, you get an ELP you rely on and use as the basis on which to make important governance, compliance and investment decisions.
  2. Sufficient resourcing – Imagine making your in-house SAM team the world’s largest and most elastic SAM team.  You need help with IBM this quarter? No problem, we have that covered.  Microfocus is auditing you? We’ve got a team of experts for that. You’re thinking about ditching Oracle? Let’s look at the alternatives (and the risks) of changing your Oracle contracts.
  3. Clear scope & objectives – Our SAM consultants have helped define and implement the SAM programs at some of the world’s leading brands across the finance, retail, manufacturing and utilities industries.  Not only do we know where to start with SAM, we can map your entire journey through to a fully mature SAM program.

So whether you’ve already invested in a SAM tool or are still considering your options, once you’ve read the Gartner research note, why not schedule a call with one of our strategic SAM consultants to discuss how you will address the three critical elements of a success SAM program (otherwise known as “how to avoid the nightmare of onboarding a SAM tool you’re not ready for”).